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Feeling homesick? Suffer cultureshock?

Read Britta's story and our top tips to feel better soon.

If either of the above applies to you, read Britta’s story and our top tips. They are followed by some tips from the ‘experts’ who have dedicated articles to the above subjects.  

Au pair- very nice job but sometimes difficult!

Hallo my name is Britta and I am an au pair in Stoke on Trent that is near Manchester. I wanted to be an au pair because I love working with children and I also wanted to see another culture and Country. In Germany I work in a pharmacy and I can continue my work there after my 3 month in England. I will write about my problem here in England the homesickness.

So I will begin with my first day in England. I arrived on Saturday the 27th of January my host parents got me up from the airport. And we drove to their house. The children (two boys 6 and 8 years old) was by friends. So I had a little bit time to look around. After a while the boy came home with their friend and they said hello to me. I gave them the guest presents and then they went in their room and play with their friends. That was not a very warm welcome and then I was alone in my room. I was very lonely and missed my Family.

The first week was very hard because everything was new and I didn't know anybody. There were no other au pairs in Stoke on Trent and after this week I decided to go home, because I felt so lonely and I spoke with my host father, he was very nice and understanding I also spoke with my Agency and they gave me the tip to try it one week more.

And now I am still here! Why? Because I write to other au pairs from the internet and I telephoned with them. I met a very nice au pair in London, where I could spend the weekend with and also a very nice au pair in Cambrige, where I also was. It is great to the other places around the country and every one I meet on my journey was nice and all other au pairs know the problems of homesickness and you can talk to them. I also meet a very nice English girl (my agency was so nice to find her for me) and she lives near me and we went to the cinema to we go out in the nights. I am very glad that I am here now and make this wonderful experience to meet so different kind of people and all are very friendly and try to understand me. To be homesick it is normal and it hurts a lot. I know it but see all the positive experience in this trip and you learn for your live!


Our smart tips on arrival to avoid feeling homesick:

1.      Talk to your new family! Avoid sitting in your own room too much, you will appear more sociable and easy to approach and have a chance to get to know each other better. If you sit in your room, the family may feel they do not want to disturb you, whilst you are lonely and not sure how to get stuck in. Tell them if you are feeling a little down, they cannot read your mind and may have ideas to make you feel better. And remember; they may feel shy too, especially the children!

2.      Get busy finding friends – language classes, gym classes, toddler groups etc are all great places to get you out and about meeting new people, the day will fly by if you have lots of things to do and people to meet. We offer free membership for all our au pairs to where you can find other au pairs in your area.

3.      Talk to your ‘old’ family. Keep in touch with home but focus more on future than on past.

4.      Think positive – at the end of each day, write down 3 nice things that you experiences that day, they do not need to be huge achievements, simply ‘enjoyed trying Indian food for the first time’ or ‘had fun feeding the ducks in the park’ or ‘painted a picture for the host mum together and she loved it!’

5.      Agree a deadline – give yourself time to adjust, for example you agree to ‘re-evaluate’ after 10 days. If you feel better but not yet perfect, you can maybe agree another 10 days and so on. You can either do this alone or share it with either new or old family. People around you should encourage you to take your time, encourage yourself also!

Simple suggestions for a complex feeling ‘culture shock’

From an article by Rebecca Rolfes, American Women's Club of Brussels

Finding interesting things to do is not so much the problem as finding the energy to do them and balancing between total withdrawal and over-involvement. The person who can adjust will be better for the experience, more capable, flexible, happier with herself and her accomplishments.

The three phases of treatment start with getting rid of the depression in the same ways that any depression is combatted. Usually it is cured in a very informal way, meeting someone who has lived in the culture for a while and can advise as well as sympathize. In the first phase the trauma may be lessened if someone will listen quietly and say in words or actions, "I'm with you. I know how tough it must be for you right now." Often nothing more is needed and nothing less will do.

The second phase of treatment is making some concrete effort to adapt. The best and most frequently used method is language lessons. Learning the language of a host country is the most valuable lesson in the culture. It is also the single most important way to retain a feeling of competence. A housewife who cannot deal with repairmen, wrong numbers on the phone, or directions on new food products feels stupid and worthless. The sense of isolation is further enhanced by the fear of not being able to get help in an emergency. Knowing the language, you cannot only call an ambulance, but can ask for a push in the snow, run next door when the basement floods, and in general help yourself instead of relying on someone who may not be there in an emergency.

Give up the habit of making comparisons; dismiss your uncertainties is suggested in Bringing Up Children Overseas: A Guide For Families, by Sidney Werkman, M.D. The third phase of treatment for culture shock is to establish a goal and decide how to achieve it. You probably already had some sort of goal in mind when you came overseas. You may have wanted to see the world, learn another language, study art or architecture. This is a creative award for the pain of culture shock. You take the energy, the inner resources and your renewed self-image and put them to work to reap the maximum benefits from living overseas. You need not accept the opinions and customs of a country whole cloth, but what you do retain will make you a fuller person. If you can fight the dragon and win, you will have learned the most valuable lesson of a life abroad: how to get along in the world.

And we found this about feeling homesick on the website of the University of Cambridge, it applies to students but of course also to au pairs.

Individuals have different levels of tolerance to change and have learned different ways of coping with new situations. But what can make transition so hard? In a familiar place people generally feel accepted and secure, and are therefore able to function and meet challenges successfully. Away from the familiar, they are without their usual sources of support, and in unfamiliar surroundings their tried and tested methods of coping and working are challenged; "failure" looms large and self esteem and confidence drops. Tasks which would normally have been taken in one's stride, can suddenly seem quite a challenge, or even feel impossible.

What might help?

  1. Talk to someone. If you haven't yet made friends here, then try a tutor, supervisor, chaplain, nurse or counsellor.
  2. Keep in good contact with the people you have left behind; arrange a time to go back to see them, perhaps after a few weeks. But also give yourself time within the university to begin to get involved here. Don't let looking back actually hinder moving forward.
  3. Encourage friends and family to come and see you in your new setting.
  4. Remember that many other people will be sharing similar feelings, although you may assume that they are doing fine! (You can't read their minds - just as they can't read yours!)
  5. You are allowed to feel sad and homesick! You are also allowed to enjoy yourself - it isn't being disloyal to those you miss!
  6. Be realistic about what to expect from student life and from yourself. Establish a balance between work and leisure: you are NOT expected to work ALL the time - you would soon burn out. On the other hand, if you don't put in enough time on work, you can very quickly get behind, which only adds to the stresses!
  7. If work is proving too difficult, can you improve your study skills or your organisation of time and work so that you gain satisfaction from what you do? There may be people in your College or Department or the Student Union who can help in this area, such as your Tutor, Supervisor or the Welfare Officer
  8. Remember to get enough food and sleep! These affect us emotionally as well as physically.
  9. Make contacts and friends through shared activities such as sport or other interests. There are so many clubs and societies within the university and city, that you are very likely to find something that suits your particular interests. At the start of the academic year many new people will be joining - you are unlikely to be the only new person.
  10. Give yourself time to adjust: you don't have to get everything right straight away. Nor do you have to rush into making major decisions about staying or leaving.
  11. Check out that you do really want to be at this university, in this college, studying this subject, at this time. Most people come through times of homesickness and go on to do well and enjoy their time at university. But for some it can be right to leave and take another direction. Those who do leave mostly find another course or university with which they are happy, perhaps after taking a year out. But if you are thinking along these lines, you need to take expert advice about the academic, career and financial implications. Speak to your tutor, the University Career Service and your LEA.
  12. If you stop being able to do normal social and academic things, seek professional help either from your doctor or the counselling service. Don't wait until the problems have grown impossibly large!

We hope that some of these suggestions will prove useful. There are many things you can do to help yourself, but don't hesitate in seeking out the help of others. Homesickness is not unusual - and it can be conquered!